Throughout his career as a golf course superintendent, Kevin Breen never gave much thought to becoming his professional association's president. Nor was it why he got involved with the GCSAA's member board.
His reasons for volunteering on behalf of other superintendents were much more understated, if not selfless.
"When I am finished not just as president, but with my service on the board, I want members to see that they have a direct responsibility in the success of that organization and that they are critically important to what the association is," said Breen, superintendent at La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos, California, and for the next 11 months the GCSAA president. "I want them to feel they are involved and heard and that they are important in contributing to something bigger than yourself."
And he knows what he does extends beyond the boundaries of Lawrence, Kansas.
"As a board, we listen to members, we listen to industry partners, we listen to suppliers and we take that input and give a strategy to the staff to execute a plan so that we are all successful, so everyone with a stake in the overall industry, not just GCSAA, is successful. We know there are a lot of facilities where there is not a GCSAA member, and what we do affects them, too."
In a time when just about everything, including the golf industry, is in a state of flux and uncertainty, Breen, with his self-effacing and benevolent approach, is the right person at the right time for the office, says Mike Kosak, who hired Breen as his assistant many years ago at Lahontan Golf Club in Truckee, California.
"As I did, Kevin came from humble beginnings and was the main reason I brought him on at Lahontan," Kosak said. "We spoke of GCSAA often in those early days and he wanted to make an impact in some fashion as he didn't feel the small golf courses with minimum budgets were represented in the association. He made it his mission to open up opportunities within the GCSAA for the low budget facilities around the country. He was instrumental in starting a grass roots movement in the Sierra Nevada chapter that included all facilities from the Mom and Pop 9-holer to the big budget private facilities."
The show will evolve, and that change will be ongoing. I'm excited by that, by the chance to do it better than it had been done in the past. And in a new world with new changes all around us, it only makes sense the conference and show will evolve, also.
An avid reader of books on leadership and a one-time aspiring meteorologist, Breen has made a career of progressive out-of-the-box thinking. As a superintendent in an area that is subject to some of the most unique climate challenges and is constantly under the regulatory microscope, Breen has been an agent of choice both out of choice as well as necessity. It will require someone who is both to help guide the golf industry through uncharted waters, even if he has to treat those same waters for bicarbonates first.
He has spent years finding solutions to irrigation challenges, including water that is both dirty and scarce.
When asked if he would consider natural products in response to the rising cost of synthetic fertilizer, he responded: "I've been using organic products for years, and I plan on using more organics."
For most of the next year, he is bringing that reputation for change to the role as president of the GCSAA board.
His two years as vice president and president of GCSAA have been, so far, defined in part by two years of a Covid-plagued annual conference and trade show that was all virtual in 2021 and in-person, but lightly attended in 2022.
"With the challenges GCSAA and golf in general face going forward, the timing of naming Kevin Breen President couldn't be better," Kosak said. "I know Kevin will make every effort to be inclusive of all golf facilities and open doors for those who want to advance their careers through educational programs. He's always believed in the local chapters of GCSAA as being the opportunity to open those doors; at this time I think his leadership is just what GCSAA needs."
It is no secret that the current conference and trade show format does not fit the needs of everyone. Two years of challenges associated with Covid have provided GCSAA with an opportunity to adjust that model in future years.
"That is actually what we are discussing at the board level," Breen said.
"There is no answer at this point what exactly the show will be, but there is the recognition that it needs to evolve, it needs to change. Over the next year, we need to hear what members want and what the vendors who support the show want. We need to have those conversations with them about what they need to be successful.
With the challenges GCSAA and golf in general face going forward, the timing of naming Kevin Breen President couldn't be better.
"The GCSAA does not get revenue and is not successful unless vendors are successful and they get what they need out of the show, as well as our members, so it's a balancing act. Over the course of the next few months, those discussions will be going on, and it will be a partnership with everyone involved. It's going to be a lot of listening and planning with these entities and listening to one another. The show will evolve, and that change will be ongoing. I'm excited by that, by the chance to do it better than it had been done in the past. And in a new world with new changes all around us, it only makes sense the conference and show will evolve, also."Breen says his defining moment of service to fellow superintendents came when working with the association's government affairs group, in particular advocating on behalf of his colleagues on key issues like water.
"The pivotal moment for me in board service was in government advocacy and our priority issues agenda and how we arrive at those," he said.
"What I hear about most from our members is the loss of our resources, be they chemicals, fertilizers and especially water in the West. That's the big one, that and manpower."
For the past eight years, Breen has attended National Golf Day in Washington, where he plays an active role in the lobbying process by meeting with Congressional and Senate aides about key issues affecting the golf industry.
"The first few years, it's like 'OK, you're here representing golf. That's nice, we'll see you maybe never again. Then you come back the next year, and the next year and the next year.
"It takes time to develop credibility and build relationships necessary to effect change and influence lawmakers to see why this is a concern to us, and the fact that we have been persistent, they now can see what we are asking for is reasonableness."